Maki vs. Hand Roll: How to Tell the Difference


Sushi is a dish with a fascinating and rich history that can often confuse people, including the difference between a maki and a hand roll.

What makes a maki different from a hand roll? There are some major differences between these two types of sushi, mainly with regards to the size, shape, and purpose. Maki is the sliced rolls that are intended to be consumed by more than one person. Hand rolls are conical in shape and are meant to be consumed by just one person.

Knowing the difference between these two can help you avoid making a mistake when placing your order, as well as allowing you to better appreciate the experience of eating sushi.

The Different Types of Sushi

For those who are uninitiated, there are several types of sushi that are available in the market. Depending on where you are getting them from, there could be several that can’t even be considered sushi but are being marketed as sushi.

To start with, contrary to what a lot of people may think, sushi basically refers to the rice that is flavored with vinegar. It is not about the fish, the caviar, the nori, or the various fillings that come with the dish. However, it is still a fact that its popularity has given rise to a certain image with regard to what sushi should be.

So for your convenience, listed below are the different types of sushi that are largely considered the main types that are available for consumption:

·         Maki




·         Uramaki

·         Nigiri

·         Temaki or Handroll

There are some who argue that sashimi is also a type of sushi thanks to the fact that it is raw fish. However, this doesn’t really hold much weight since, as already mentioned, the dish would need to involved vinegar rice in order to be classified as sushi.

Although today’s discussion is about maki and temaki or hand roll, it would help to look at the various characteristics of all four of these sushi types. The table below should offer a good idea with regards to this topic:

 UramakiNigiriTemaki or Hand RollMaki
ShapeCircularBlockConeCircular
SizeSmall, Bite-SizedSmall, Bite-sizedLarge, similar to an ice cream coneSmall, Bite-sized
ServingMultiple pieces, platedOne or two pieces, platedIndividual pieces, handheldMultiple pieces, plated
CompositionRice, nori, fillingRice, toppings, spreadNori, rice, fillingNori, rice, filling

Now that we’ve touched on their difference, let’s talk about the unique characteristics of maki and hand roll sushi. To start with, the most obvious discrepancies between these two variants of the traditional dish are the shapes and the sizes. Consequently, they also have similarities that are worthy of note.




Both of these types of sushi dishes have typically the same composition. The fillings are in the center, with the rice enveloping them, and the nori wrapper keeping the structure together. The difference then comes in how these two types of sushi are eaten and in what conditions.

Traditionally speaking, the maki is the more popular type of sushi since it is the closest to authentic sushi dining. As a matter of fact, next to the nigiri, this is the most common type of sushi that you are going to find in Japan. It is basically circular in shape with roughly a diameter of about an inch and around half an inch in width.

In contrast, a hand roll sushi is about the same size as your typical ice cream cone and looks similar to such foods as shawarma or a doner wrap. This is due to the fact that it’s just the rolled form of the dried seaweed wrap, enclosing the bottom and leaving a wide opening at the top.




In terms of how maki and hand roll sushi is served, the former is served on a plate with a full service of condiments, while the latter is served on its own in a more commercial fashion. In the cash of maki, you basically eat it sitting down on a table. You are served a plate of four to eight slices of the roll for individual servings. For group servings, there would be more pieces for people to share.

With regards to how maki is eaten, it involves picking each piece with your fingers or a chopstick, dipping them in soy sauce, and then consuming them whole individually. There is typically no room for just taking a bite out of a piece since they are already really small.

As for hand roll sushi, you eat it like you would eat a burrito. It is given to you with the fillings stuffed inside the conical nori wrapper. In this case, you can also count on the composition to be the same as an ice cream cone. Most of the fillings and rice will be near the entrance and the bottom will be nearly empty.

On the matter of the condiments, they are given to you either in packets or as a self-service style of containers. It’s up to you how much you want to drizzle on the hand roll, which hardly makes it a traditional type of sushi.

You might have already caught on to the fact that the hand roll can be more closely compared to street food that you are going to find at mall kiosks, fast food joints, or even festival street stalls. In contrast, maki is more typically available at restaurants and sushi establishments. The difference in how these two dishes are viewed is, therefore, significant.

Whereas maki is seen as the more high-class and dignified dish, sushi purists would often look down on hand roll sushi. As such, those who are truly looking to satisfy the urge to eat sushi would often avoid the latter in favor of the former. Consequently, this type of behavior is also considered snobbish or elitist.




What Does a Maki Roll Look Like?

First things first, a maki roll can be a bit redundant since those two words can often mean the same thing when referring to sushi. You either say maki or you say roll when you place your order, they will be the same thing. Now that that’s out of the way, a maki basically looks like a roll of coins stacked to form half an inch in width.

The outer layer looks dark courtesy of the nori wrap, which is usually dark green or even almost black. Then there’s the second inner layer, which is white because it is made up of the rice. This represents the widest part of the piece and makes up the bulk of the roll.

Finally, you have the center of the roll, which is made up of the various fillings that you can get your sushi with. This part is usually composed of such things as crab sticks, cucumber, mango, avocado, winter melon, even some smoked eel. The combination of items that you can place in the center of the roll is practically infinite.

When ordering from a restaurant, the items that are contained in the roll are displayed, as well. So you won’t have to worry about eating something you are not supposed to. On that note, there can also be some variances in the maki that you get. On many occasions, in addition to the fillings that are already in the center, there can also be toppings to go along with it.

This is usually done by leaving some space on the nori wrap when spread the rice and filling so that there will be a cavity on the top side of the roll. This gap will then be filled with things like fish eggs, spreads, and other various toppings that can enhance its flavor. Naturally, this kind of usually is considered more luxurious and will come with a higher price tag.




For less expensive variants of this kind of maki, only rice is placed in the center of the roll and the fillings are the ones that are used for the toppings. Whatever the case may be, the appearance will still be the same.

It’s worth pointing out that maki sushi will not always be perfectly round. There have been cases where the rolls are actually square. As for the maki with the toppings, there are also times when they are shaped like an oval. The decision to do this often comes down to space and visual appeal.

As long as the nori wrapper is on the outside and everything else is contained within, it can be called a maki. This is worth remembering when you are in a sushi restaurant and you have to make a choice. You should note, however, that choosing this particular type of sushi is going to affect your enjoyment of it.

Simply put, you will be tasting the nori first when you put it in your mouth. This means that if you aren’t that fond of the dried seaweed wrapper, you might not enjoy it as much as when the rice forms the outer layer.

What Does a Hand Roll Sushi Look Like?

As already discussed above, a hand roll sushi looks pretty much like an ice cream cone that’s made up of nori, rice, and fillings. It is made by overlapping two points of a nori wrap’s edge so that it becomes a cone, this is then placed in another wrap that is usually made of plastic or paper to maintain the shape. From there, the is nori cone is filled with the fillings.

Depending on where you get the hand roll sushi from, the rice can either be spread on top of the nori first before it is rolled into a cone or the rice is placed in the cone after it was rolled. The former offers more content for you to bite into while the latter may leave something to be desired.

In any case, the important point to hammer home is the fact that unlike the maki sushi, the hand roll does not nearly have the same level of elegance. When you hold it in your hands, it’s like you are eating a particularly burnt piece of pita bread. On the other hand, if it is made well enough, the varying lengths, colors, and textures of the fillings can actually lead to a pleasant experience.

When holding the hand roll sushi, you basically eat it from top to bottom. You add toppings, condiments, and flavorings as you like while you go along. It is a decidedly less elegant way of eating sushi.

On the other hand, it is an excellent way to enjoy this dish which, if not entirely traditional, is at least inspired by popular food. You are also getting the benefits of the nutrients that you can get from this type of food.

Thanks to the freshness of the ingredients, you are not dealing with any preservatives. You are also getting plenty of vitamins and minerals from every single part of the hand roll. You are even receiving a healthy amount of fiber thanks to the nori, the rice, and the vegetables. As street food fares go, this is one of the healthier options that you can ask for.

What’s more, it doesn’t confine you to just one spot. You can walk around with it, which makes it excellent for enjoying your surroundings in case you are out sightseeing. If you are not that competent when using a chopstick, you can also appreciate the advantage of this type of sushi.

Then again, if we are going to go by traditional practices of eating sushi, you are not actually supposed to use chopsticks when eating this dish. As any real Japanese sushi chef will tell you, sushi is meant to be finger food. That is to say, you pick it up with your fingers, dip it in soy sauce, and then place it in your mouth. If you are going to eat at a genuine sushi restaurant in Japan, you should remember this.

Related Questions

What Is The Difference Between Sushi and Maki?

Maki is just a type of sushi so there is no difference between them. Maki is one of the main options that you get when you order sushi at a restaurant or when you purchase a set from a store. It’s the one where the nori is on the outside instead of the rice.

Is Sashimi a Type of Sushi?

Technically, it is not, though there are those who would contend that it is. Regardless of the arguments made, however, it is a fact that sashimi is just raw fish and it doesn’t come with rice, by nature. This effectively means that it is not a type of sushi from a technical standpoint.

Is Hand Roll Sushi Traditional?

This depends on what you mean since the history of sushi is actually relatively recent. It started gaining popularity during the 1800s, so the dish has only been around for a few hundred years. As for the origins of hand roll sushi itself, it has been attributed to have originated from Osaka. So if we are going to look at it that way, then hand roll sushi is actually traditional.

On that note, it isn’t really one of the most popular of its type in Japan because of the lack of elegance and luxury associated with other types of sushi. In the case of maki, in particular, the presentation of this type of sushi dish can sometimes be a work of art thanks to its daintiness.

In comparison, the hand roll sushi is big, bulky, and requires less finesse to eat. As a result, it is often looked at with derision by those who consider themselves huge sushi fans. Still, this doesn’t make it any less of a sushi dish than its more well-known counterparts.

The Influence of Hand Roll Sushi

While hand roll sushi has not exactly gained that much renown in the sushi world, it has had an effect on food trends everywhere else. In the case of food enthusiasts who like to combine new trends and old food, for example, the hand roll sushi has gained prominence.

There have even been cases where fast-food chains have started offering products that were directly tied to hand-roll sushi even though their ingredients have nothing at all to do with the dish. Such offers basically relied on the similarities in appearance and in the name of the food.

In more progressive regions, there have even been entire industries built on hand roll sushi. There are currently kiosks and restaurants that either only offer this type of sushi or are promoting it as their specialty. This is not surprising in markets like the US where customers are always chasing the next new thing in food.

Considering the fame of sushi, the increasing consciousness with regards to healthy food, and the need to make eating as convenient as possible, this is hardly surprising. Being able to actually eat sushi on the go while enjoying all of the benefits and the perceived luxury that comes with it is undeniably appealing. 

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